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We all must do our small part to rebuild Rushford

Fri, Aug 24th, 2007
Posted in Commentary

Friday, August 18, was a pretty typical day in Rushford. At least for me. I dragged myself out of bed to go walk the high school track. The R-P football team was practicing next door on the practice field by 7:30 a.m. I like watching their practices-it breaks up what could be a boring exercise routine for me.

I walked three miles that day instead of my usual two. Then it was on to Rushford Foods for cider vinegar and canning lids. I decided to reward myself with a Kwik Trip breakfast sandwich while I filled my car with gas. Driving home, I realized that I'd forgotten to bring the checks I'd meant to cash at the bank. I wondered who was manning the drive-up window that day: Deb, Eileen, Mary or Wanda. I could always cash my checks later.

Another trip to Rushford Foods later in the day for snacks because friends were coming that night, and I forgot my checks again. Oh, well. I stopped at school to sign up my 7th grader for volleyball. "Practice starts Monday in Peterson," Mrs. Kingsley told us. "Bus leaves Rushford at 8:30."

The weather was beautiful that evening and we sat outside with our friends talking about the upcoming school year, the football team, and how the Kwik Trip manager had offered me my breakfast sandwich for free because I'd had to wait seven minutes for it.

The following morning my son's Cub Scout camp was cancelled because of heavy rain, and my husband and I postponed plans to have breakfast downtown at Stumpy's. Maybe next Saturday.

But early Sunday morning, around 2:00 a.m., I woke suddenly with a really bad feeling. So did my eight year old son. A half hour later the city warning siren blew for a long time. My first thought was "tornado?" By now everyone knows that siren was warning residents that Rush Creek was rising rapidly over the dikes, threatening the town and way of life so many of us have come to love, if take for granted.

We are extremely lucky at my house-part of the 1/3 of Rushford homes to remain free of flood damage. A lack of electricity, water, and phone service seemed easy to tolerate as we drove what streets we could Sunday morning. The football field was water littered with garbage and a few small white islands we later learned were drowned turkeys from a nearby farm. The yellow goal posts on the practice field appeared ridiculously short, they were so deep in water.

We were able to drive as far as the Root River Church, where it sits next to Rush Creek. Across the creek sat dozens of houses deep in water. It the middle of the flood were fire trucks putting out a house fire.

It was evident that the water had been up and over the dike on the south side of the creek and flooded the area we call "Brooklyn." The creek was now a couple of feet below the dike again, but the damage was done.

We walked the dike along with a handful of others-not really a smart thing to do, in retrospect, and by an hour later, forbidden. My flip-flops were soon muddy and useless, so I removed them and walked barefoot.

We walked the dike to the bridge where we could look to the left and see Dorothy O'Donnell's house in the water, and to the right, we could see into downtown where people moved around in canoes.

"I almost bought that house," said a man who'd started walking with us. He pointed to a house nearly under water. "Hey, look. There's somebody's sewing kit."

A round, open bucket holding dozens of spools of colorful thread bobbed next to us. Nearby was a single shoe, a blue Kroc similar to my daughter's.

It has taken days for me to really understand that there will be no volleyball practice starting next week, no breakfast at Stumpy's next Saturday, no stopping at the bank drive-thru, no popping into Rushford Foods three times a day.

My kids and I were able to stay at a friend's house in Rochester for two days where we could enjoy hot showers, electricity, and internet. Last night I returned to Rushford while the kids stayed with their grandparents.

Coming in from the south, I was stopped near Kwik Trip on highway 43 by a cluster of National Guard men and vehicles. They took my driver's license so they could "call it in" and make sure I had a legitimate reason to be in town.

I looked at the dark, deserted Kwik Trip where water had been higher than the gas pumps. Across the street was the Subway restaurant where my kids usually order a six-inch "veggie" on Italian. I could look into the Rushford Foods parking lot at a few shopping carts. Everything appeared dark, abandoned, and silent.

And it was then that, for the first time, my personal flood gates broke. It started with just a warm wetness in my eyes; then I was trying to swallow sobs. The young National Guard soldier returned with my driver's license and looked horrified. "I'm so sorry," he said, in response to my tears. "We won't hassle you any more if you stop at City Hall and get an orange resident slip. I'm so sorry."

"It's just that I haven't been here since Monday," I said. "It's a bit overwhelming."

"I'm sorry," he said again, and every time he apologized, I just cried harder until I was doing the can't-catch-your-breath thing little kids do when they cry.

"No-it's not you," I said and quickly drove away. The homes of my friends and neighbors, the business district-it's all too much. There are so many questions at this point. Will we get government aid? How soon? What kind? Can we rebuild?

I've heard the sentiment expressed that this flood is the kind of thing that can be the death of a town. But the spirit of the people of Rushford says otherwise, in my opinion. I've heard so many stories-people showing up for work in borrowed shoes because theirs were all lost, firemen, whose own homes were ruined, answering the call to put out a fire across town.

I'm only one person, and as I've said, I'm so much luckier than most. I have a home to return to. I've only been in this town for eight years, but if you ask me, there's way too much here to give up. I believe in this community, and like the rest of the seventeen hundred residents, I am ready to do my small part to rebuild it.

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